Can You Mend the Foreclosure Next Door?

A foreclosure on your block can do more than spoil the view from your window. A foreclosed eyesore can ruin the financial health of your household and neighborhood. But there are things you can do now to keep a blighted property from destroying your home equity.

Be a Good Neighbor

Prevention makes the biggest difference, says Erynn Crowley, deputy director of the Phoenix Neighborhood Services Department. If you know a neighbor is headed toward foreclosure, find out what you can do to help maintain the property should they move away. Like Phoenix, many municipalities have developed resources to help neighborhoods and neighbors deal with the foreclosure crisis.

"We always encourage neighbors to talk to each other, because that's the fastest way going," Crowley says. "Sometimes they aren't aware or they thought they had a tenant who was taking care of it."

To keep one blighted property from turning into two or more, maintain your own property. "Don't get too discouraged just because you have one or two abandoned properties on the block," says Chris Smith, director for Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago in the city's Roseland office. "If every other property on the block is in pretty good shape, chances are the (foreclosed) property won't stay vacant for too long."

Form a neighborhood watch to head off potential problems, says John Anderson, co-owner of Twin Oaks Realty Inc., in Crystal, Minn. "Once the pipes get stolen or it becomes vandalized, it becomes harder to sell and it becomes a bigger detriment to the neighborhood," says Anderson. And always keep the police informed if you see criminal activity.

Speak Up, Fast

"If (neighbors) see code violations -- a broken window; tall, dry weeds; trash in the yard -- any of those things -- we recommend they report them as soon as they see them," Crowley says. "You don't want it to sit and get worse, especially if it's a vacant property."

Sometimes an eyesore can turn into a health or safety hazard, with vacant properties attracting squatters or becoming hot spots for illegal activity, such as drug dealing. If you suspect that a vacant or abandoned property poses such a risk, notify authorities immediately. And the more folks you can get on your block to complain about an abandoned property, the better the chances something will get done sooner rather than later.

"Everyone on that block needs to call (the authorities) on the same day, within the same hour. And if nothing happens, do the same thing again the next day," says Smith, who says that with this tactic, at least in Chicago, it usually takes fewer than three days for police to come out and board up and secure an abandoned property. With a single phone call, that same abandoned property could remain open for a while.

If your city doesn't fix the problem foreclosure, Smith suggests calling a nonprofit such as NHS that will work on your behalf to take care of problem properties in your neighborhood.

Help Sell the Property

To speed up the sale of the foreclosure, help find a potential buyer. Talk up the property, and your neighborhood, to anyone you know who is looking to buy.

"The best salespersons for an abandoned property on the block are the people that live on that block," says Smith, who often makes presentations to neighborhood groups.

If your area is particularly hard-hit by foreclosures, the eyesore on your block may already be part of a federally funded Neighborhood Stabilization Program, under which municipalities buy, fix up and resell blighted properties. Crowley says some Phoenix neighborhood groups help market NSP properties. In the Minneapolis area, Anderson has seen neighbors banding together to buy foreclosed or NSP properties, fixing them up and reselling them.

What You Shouldn't Do

Don't waste your time playing detective, trying to figure out who owns the foreclosure nightmare on your block in an effort to get the owner to take responsibility. Foreclosures can take months or more than a year. It's often difficult to pinpoint who currently holds the deed, Anderson says.

Ask your building-code department, or a similar agency, what you can do legally to help maintain the property, says Anderson. In most cases, they'll give the go-ahead to pick up trash outside the property or mow the lawn. Be sure to get permission first.

Avoid the temptation to sneak onto the property and try to fix it up yourself. "Don't try to do anything on your own," Smith says. "(You) could actually be held liable for anything that goes wrong on that property. You have to go through the proper channels."